November 16, 2017

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The East Pointers have a new album out which means you can expect to see even more of their tunes being used as my blog songs. Today’s track is entitled Two Weeks, and the album is called What We Leave Behind.

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Current chain of writing days: 38

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After my last post where I shared some good news and possible future happenings in regards to my writing (which got some some lovely feedback from my family and friends, thanks all), I got yet another piece of wonderful news. An email to my inbox started with “congratulations” and while many spam email might start this way this one was from the City of Melbourne’s Library and Recreations department, inviting me to the Lord Mayor Creative Writing Awards 2017, as I had been shortlisted for an award. When it rains it pours, right? And, while admittedly I’ve only been trying this writing game for three years, it was starting to feel a little dry.

And look, I still have a long path to walk. I’ve read enough writing advice and author blogs to know any kind of success doesn’t happen overnight. Even the ones that seem to, usually have a lengthy shadow of practice trailing along behind them. It takes years to do your twenty thousand hours, with the general consensus being that it’ll take ten years of work — in this case, writing every day — before your skills will get to the point that they’ll start to get you paid work and hopefully gain an audience.

I accept that. I have told myself and others that it will probably take till I’m forty to really see if I’m capable of making a living off of writing, and that’s still a pretty big if.

What does get me down sometimes is that it feels like I started so late. While I was always an avid reader and consumer of television I never considered a job creating that kind of content until I already had a science degree behind me and years working jobs I didn’t much enjoy. Once I started writing, and realised how much I enjoyed it, it felt like I had wasted so much time.

Then, today, I saw a tweet. It was from a writer I follow; Cassandra Khaw. It went like this:

What followed was an onslaught of people in all kinds of fields either sharing their stories of starting late and finding success or relief at the fact that they weren’t the only one sharing this worry. 

Some were from writers I knew:

Some were people scarcely similar to me:

Some were from people further down the line:

And some were people achieving different goals:

All of them were tales of working hard, and working passionately to achieve a goal, all with one resounding theme: There is no deadline. There is no cut off date to when someone can achieve success. There’s no wrong or right time to change a career, go for a goal, get fit, or start a new hobby.

It can be all too easy to feel like there are checkpoints in life that, once past, means you’ve missed out. But that’s not true. You control your actions, and your actions become your life; so, and this is the important part, you control your life. I think it comes down to just pointing yourself at a goal and taking the first step. 

The awards I’ll be going to are on the 7th of December, and oddly I don’t actually know what I’ve been shortlisted for as I entered in two fields; both the short story and novella. Hell, maybe I’ll get lucky and it’ll be both.

Wish me luck.

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Remember, do the best you can for as long as you can, that’s all any of us can ever do.

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Talk soon,

Damian

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Mary’s Memory Box

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Mary kept a box inside herself in which she kept all her unwanted memories.

It started when she was nine, on christmas day. After running into the lounge room to see what presents Santa had brought her she had slipped and hit her head, and so her parents had rushed her to the hospital. They’d spent the whole day in the waiting room only to be told she didn’t have a concussion, or need stitches, but rather just a bandaid and some pain killers. It had been the worst day of her short life, all brought upon by her over excited running and falling, and she’d made the decision that she didn’t want to remember it ever again.

She’d been in her bedroom at the time looking at the small wooden box where she kept all her stickers. The box had a small lock attached and so could be opened by no one but her, which meant the stickers only came out of the box when she chose. Why couldn’t she do that with her memories, she’d wondered, and so the memory box had been created.

At first it had resembled the sticker box exactly, but over time it had changed and grown, and, now at twenty nine, Mary envisioned her memory box as being made of walnut, gilded with gold and silver filigree that wrapped itself around the box’s exterior.

The locking mechanisms had been upgraded as well. In order to ensure no memory slipped out, or in, by accident, Mary had added layers of puzzles to the box that she had to navigate in order to allow herself to open and close it. She had to first mentally move the filigree in a specific order, which caused a chunk of wood at the front of the box to slide away, revealing a twenty five digit combination lock. Once the code was correctly inserted the lid would open revealing a second lid, engraved with an intricate jungle scene. A number of buttons were hidden in the scene which she would then have to press in a specific order. Finally, she would whisper a secret sentence to herself, and only then would the box open, and only for the length of time it took for her to stuff her unwanted memories inside.

The box worked perfectly. Ever since that day of its creation all those christmases ago, Mary hadn’t been able to recall her trip to the hospital; all she had in her head was a blank space and the knowledge that she’d hidden a memory away. Her parents had assumed she must have hit her head even harder than they’d expected, calling the doctor that had seen her a quack; but Mary knew the real reason was her memory box.

In the years that followed more and more memories had been added to the box. From the time in high school when she’d gossiped about her best friend Genevieve to the cool kids, sharing all her secrets, to the the time she’d gotten so drunk at a party in her third year of uni that she’d not only vomited a black-orange mix of sambuca and cheetos all over her soon to be ex boyfriend while trying to kiss him but had also broken the home owners dishwasher when she’d used it to wash her vomit covered dress, and then had finished the night by crying and screaming at all her friends until she’d passed out.

It wasn’t only youthful indiscretions she used the box for though, adulthood brought with it a score of memories that Mary cut out and locked away. The job interview she’d started crying in, the shame she’d felt when her ex, Alex, caught her cheating, the regrettable joke she’d made in front of the korean client her company had recruited, which had lead to her being fired, and another night of drinking, breaking things, and saying words that hurt the people who loved her most. Every one of these memories made it into the box, and once the lid was closed, Mary, happily, couldn’t remember them anymore.

Other people still did of course, but with the forced forgetting these people seemed callous and moody to the now unaware Mary, and inevitably, with her thinking them undeservingly rude and them thinking her unremorseful for her actions, the relationships ended.

Now she was having a problem, though. The box wouldn’t close.

She was sitting tearful and hurt in the small bathroom, her swollen eyes closed as she tried to force the box lid down. It refused. She had gone through the regular unlocking sequence without a problem, had mentally sawed away the unwanted memory and placed it in the box without issue, and yet when, in her mind’s eye, she tried to close it, the lid became jammed at the last moment. She furrowed her brow and tried again, imagining an invisible force pushing down on the lid. It refused to budge, as though something in there was blocking its way. It was ridiculous, Mary knew, the box couldn’t over fill. It was, in theory, infinite.

A pounding came from the other side of the bathroom door.

‘Mary,’ her dad cried. ‘Honey, let me in.’

She ignored him, leaning forward over her knees to stick her fingers in her ears and really concentrate on closing the memory box.

The problem was that with the lid open one of her past, forgotten, memories might slip out, and Mary couldn’t allow that. She needed this box closed, and she needed it closed now.

‘Mary,’ her father yelled again. ‘You’re not doing that thing again are you? That repression thing? Please, open the door. Or, at least, just talk to me.’

Mary clamped down on her sniffling externally while internally she pushed even harder on the lid of the box. It moved a fraction of a fraction downwards, validating her efforts. She gathered her resolve and pushed harder still.

A memory slipped out.

It was from when she was eleven. She’d been angry at her mum for refusing to buy the toy she wanted and so had instead secreted the toy into the pocket of her mother’s coat without her noticing. The plan had been to retrieve it once they were home but, as soon as her mother had stepped through the stores sensors, lights had flashed and alarms had rang. A security guard had approached her mother with all the zeal of a want-to-be-cop who had finally found a criminal and swept them both away into a tiny room in the interior of the shopping center. The man had been unnecessarily aggressive and suspicious of her mother even though it was obvious who the real thief was, and had kept them there for over an hour before finally letting them off with a warning and a demand that they pay for the toy. Her mother hadn’t said a word to Mary on the drive home, simply giving her a look of such disapproval and disappointment that made a sick feeling grow in her belly. When they’d gotten home all her mother had done was give her the toy and say, ‘here, you wanted this so bad you might as well keep it.’ Mary spent that evening in her room trying and failing to ignore the toy. Everytime she looked at it the sick feeling in her belly grew, until, of course, she’d decided to put the memory in her box. After that she’d played with the toy without a worry.

Now the memory swept out and escaped into the ether of her mind, re-affixing itself to where she had cut it from all those years ago. The action weakened her, made it harder to focus on closing the box, two decades worth of regret sweeping back in an instant. She knew if she didn’t close it soon more would escape, and so she gritted her teeth and continued pushing.

‘C’mon, you’re twenty nine, now. You can’t keep doing this.’ Her father said from the other side of the door. Mary felt the box close a little bit more.

A second memory escaped.

Mary, at sixteen, in full flight of a hormone and alcohol fueled rampage, yelling and screaming at her parents as tears and mascara dribbled down her cheeks. They had caught her sneaking back into the house through her window after leaving the same way earlier to spend the night with two friends and a boy three years older than her. The boy, Alessandro, had supplied the three girls with as much spirits as they could drink, and the night had become one of binge drinking and eventually fighting when it was revealed Alessandro had been making out with all of them. She’d come home angry and confused and when her parents had apprehended her she’d exploded in a rage she didn’t know she’d possessed, using all the knowledge she had of them to say the things she knew would hurt the most.

The memory shot away to return to its rightful place, but Mary kept pushing.

‘Say something to me,’ her father continued. ‘Don’t push me away. Don’t push this away.’

Mary screamed internally, forcing her well of mental strength to dip deeper, and used everything inside her to push down on the box. With a click the latch caught, and her memories were once more trapped inside. She felt immediately lighter, her tears slowing down as she allowed the emptiness to fill her.

‘Please, love,’ her father said. ‘I’m in pain too.’ And the box exploded.

Memories burst out like confetti inside of her, whipping around her mind in a tornado of pain and regret and sorrow. She threw her head back, eyes going wide, as she re-lived all the moments she had forced away for so long. Her tears came back in an instant, starting with a dribble and turning into a full downpour. Every mistake she’d made, every act of stupidity, and cruelty, and selfishness, found their way back to the appropriate dendrite, the cells flashing with renewed connection as Mary became whole.

One memory, the latest, the one that the box had been so resistant to close over, played inside her mind.

She’d been drunk again, passed out at a bus stop in the middle of the city when two police had found her. They’d looked in her phone for her parents number, and her mum had come to collect her. Her mother had given her the usual spiel from the driver’s seat, asking Mary why she could never learn from her mistakes, why she always pretended everything was okay, why she never talked to them about her issues. Mary had lashed out, swearing and screaming, demanding her mum pull the car over and let her out. Her mother had eventually capitulated, stopping not far from Mary’s apartment, and Mary had managed to stumble the rest of the way. Her mother never made it home. A sleep deprived truck driver had hit her as she entered the highway and she was gone before the ambulance had even arrived.

The next day Mary had slept through her father’s many phone calls. Awaking in the afternoon to read the messages and rush to the hospital, where, after finding out the tragic news, she’d locked herself in the bathroom and promptly opened her memory box.

Mary’s wailing caused a spike of panic in her father. It took him four tries until his shoulder burst the bathroom door open. Mary fell into his arms, apology after apology falling from her lips.

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Six months later and the box was still gone.

On the advice of her therapist Mary had made a list, a physical one this time, on which she wrote down every one of the memories that had been locked away, all the parts of herself that she had cut off and hidden.

She’d been staying with her father ever since the accident, back in her childhood bedroom, and managed to find her old sticker box in the base of the wardrobe, hidden behind bags of clothes. She cut up the list into little strips of memories and placed them in the box. It would take time but she planned to make amends for every one of them.

She didn’t know if she’d ever get over the loss of her mother, or be able to forgive herself for her death, but she also knew that she was healing. Things made sense now, while shame and regret were not good feelings to have they allowed her to see the whole picture and work to not repeat the same mistakes.

She snapped the little lock off the sticker box and in thick black marker wrote on the lid;

MARY’S MEMORY BOX
(never to be locked again)

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Thanks for reading

Damian

November 7, 2017

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I’m once again using Kim Churchill as my music man today because his album, Weight Falls, is a thing of brilliance that I can’t get enough of. Today’s track, Can You Go On, is one that gets me charged up and pumping my fist every time thanks to heart pumping percussion and stunning vocals.

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Current chain of writing days: 20

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It’s been a busy few weeks for me, both work wise and socially. Summer showed its face here in Melbourne for one brief week and caused everyone to start planning things to do in the sun and the fact that we’ve now had cold and rain for the last two weeks hasn’t really halted that.

While the social stuff is fun it’s the work stuff I want to tell you about, and by you, I mean, you right now reading this (hello), as well as future me, the one who years from now will decide to reread this blog using the virtual reality implant in his eye to remember what he was doing in early November of 2017. That’s because it’s been a good few weeks, and whatever else happens career wise for me I want to remind myself of that. It all starts somewhere, it might be here.

Firstly, I got nominated for an award. The award in question is known as the John Hinde Award, and is given out by the Australian Writers Guild for scripts in science fiction. I didn’t win, which, bummer, but I did get long listed, which, amazing. Like most contests and submissions, I sent in my work months ago and promptly forgot about it. I do this deliberately as a defence mechanism, a way to stop me from becoming downhearted when the inevitable rejection letter pings into my inbox — if I’ve forgotten about it, I can’t be disappointed. Except, of course, this time it wasn’t a rejection. It was a, ‘Congratulations, Damian…’ which are some of the nicest words a person can read, even if their name isn’t Damian. My day was made. I shared the news with Holly, we had a drink that night, and then I turned back on my defence mechanism and told myself not to hope for the win. That one proved to be more prophetic. However, there was one more pleasant surprise. The outcome of the awards weren’t released until the day after the awards ceremony. Being longlisted I did receive an invite, but as they were in Brisbane had decided I wouldn’t go unless I was shortlisted. I did this assuming the short list would comprise maybe ten entries, and the long list would be made up of twenty or so. It turns out that assumption was wrong. The short list was in fact made up of the winner, the runners up, and a third place contender. The long list were the next seven behind those. This means two things, I could have made it as close as top four, and at the very least I was in the top ten. My day was made…again. While the win would have been great, what I was ultimately awarded with was validation. With writing you can’t help but need some level of outside validation. The point of being a writer is to share your stories, and for that you need a willing audience. This tells me I might one day have one.

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Next on the list of cool things is the horror anthology I’ve been writing with pod-casting pals, Seasons of Fear, which is finally ready for publishing. I’m quite excited for this one. I’m really proud of all the stories the guys and I have written, each one is unique, each with their own style, all strong stories, and all scary as hell. Basically, we’ve told each other a scary story around the campfire, each trying to terrify the other, and then put it in book form. It’s been a lot of fun, and, as always, has taught me plenty. We’ll start by selling them exclusively at the podcast live shows, then after that will hopefully make it so people can order then online, or straight from us, it that proves harder than expected. Either way, hopefully sales go well because I’d love to do something like this with the guys again. Also, check out the cover.

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I’ve also been fortunate enough to begin work with a mate of mine on what will hopefully be an ongoing kids radioplay series, if it gets picked up. I’m currently writing a pilot script for it, and then mate in question, Dan, will use the weight of his production company to pitch it around. I’m quietly confident. The idea is a great one that hits a niche part of the market, ABC have recently started a new audio department and are looking for submissions, and most importantly Dan’s confident, which makes me confident. If it does get funding then I’ll, in effect, be head writer and will be able to write a bunch more scripts that I’ll *gasp* get paid for. Fingers crossed, everyone.

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Lastly in this tirade of bragging, this Friday I’ll be in a writers room brainstorming for an animated kids tv series. It’s in a similar spot to the project above where nothing is set in stone just yet, but again, I’m confident this series has a really good chance. The content it’s based on is solid, the characters are fun and flawed, and the premise is one that is not only fantastic but give us a lot of stories to tell. I won’t say more than that, mostly because I’m not sure if I’m allowed to.

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The point is that it feels like I now have a few more irons in the fire, and only future me knows what they might turn into.

Talk soon,

Damian

Copy (Part 2)

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Image credit: Bogi

The first part of this story can be found here.

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‘Are you sure you know where we’re going?’ Dev asked.

They had been walking for hours. Shuni’s nose leading them away from the business district, past the tightly packed units and stacked apartments, until they got to the outskirts of the suburb, where the two to three bedroom houses squatted like herds of sleeping cattle.

‘Oh yes,’ Shuni said, not lifting her snout from the ground. ‘Sacred cow has a very distinct smell. For something so divine, it is rather smelly.’

‘Really? What does it smell like?’ Dev asked.

‘Like a really big cow.’ Shuni said. ‘I think we’re getting close, now.’ She lead them away from the track and into a growth of bush.

Dev moved behind her as she trotted forward into the undergrowth, her short stature allowing her to pass easily around the various shrubs, bushes, and branches, all of which inevitably hit Dev in the face, or worked to trip him up.

‘Shuni, is there some other way around all this? I’m having some trouble here.’ He said as he tore his leg free from a particularly spiky patch of brambles.

‘I’m afraid not, Dev, this is the way their trail leads.’

‘Then why isn’t there a track? This sacred cow managed to destroy my office building, surely it should have created a path.’

‘Oh no, the panis can fly. They would have simply carried the sacred cow over all this.’

‘Then why are you still smelling the ground?’

‘It’s droppings. It must have been very scared, there are a lot of them. You’re standing in some right now.’

‘Ugh,’ Dev said, shaking his leg to free himself of the invisible waste with no idea if it was actually helping. ‘Can’t we fly over all this, or something?’

‘Ha, dogs can’t fly, Dev. We don’t have wings. You’re so funny.’

Dev stopped walking as an idea came to him. ‘What if you did though?’ He asked.

‘Did what?’ She said.

‘Have wings. You said you could alter-’

A noise somewhere between a bray and a cackle cut him off.

‘Panis,’ Shuni growled, her little corgi body moving into an alert stance. ‘Come on, they must be close, time to do battle!’

Shuni charged forward through the brush. Dev worked to follow, pulling himself free to fall into a clearing. He looked up to see a large overgrown wall of earth in front of him, an open cave mouth at the centre of it. From within the cave’s depth more barking laughs could be heard, and it occurred to Dev for the first time that he was expected to fight demons.

‘Shuni, I don’t wish to appear to be less brave than a dog, albeit a dog/god hybrid, but is there anyway I could not go in there?’

‘Oh, don’t worry, best friend. You’ll be great. You’re the best, most loving, most favourite human I know.’

As pep talks went, it left a lot to be desired, but the honest sincerity of the words coupled with Shuni’s open faced adoration moved Dev, and caused a swell of courage to grow in him.

‘Thank you, Shuni. You’re right, we can do this, and I even have a plan as to-’

A bellow so loud it caused Dev’s ear drums to wobble rolled out of the cave mouth.

‘That is one unhappy cow. Time to go, best friend.’ Shuni turned and ran, her tiny legs a blur as she galloped towards the dark cavern.

‘Wait, Shuni, I have an idea,’ Dev called out, but her small form was already through the opening and heading inside. Left with few options, Dev repositioned his satchel and strode forward.

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Darkness enveloped Dev as he moved into the cave, but he could see a small point of flickering light ahead of him. The braying of the panis sounded again, and Dev felt his courage contract. A small shadow in the form of a dog broke the spot of light, and Dev’s courage regained some of its size. Shuni trotted around a bend and Dev hurried to follow her.

He stumbled forward into the light and saw…an empty cavern. It was huge and open with a number of small fires spotted around it’s jagged floor, but the cavern itself was empty except for Shuni and himself.

‘Shuni,’ he started. ‘What’s going…’ His eyes were caught by the shadows. They displayed humanoid figures that leapt and danced over the walls, silhouettes of creatures that didn’t exist. ‘Is that them? Are those shadows the panis?’ He whispered to the god in a corgi’s body.

‘Huh? Shadows? Oh, I see. Lean down, please.’

Confused, Dev moved his face down towards the dog, who leapt up and swiped her tongue across his eyes before he could move away.

‘Ugh, Shuni, why did you…’ Dev’s words fell away as he looked around the now packed cavern. Human like creatures, the panis, hovered and flew around the cavern’s interior. No, actually, they don’t look like humans at all, Dev realised. They had two arms, two legs, and a head, but that was where the resemblance finished. Instead they were stunted and wrinkled, lacking necks and joints in their too straight arms, with overly wide mouths that split their faces in half when they let out their braying laughter.

And as if that wasn’t shocking enough, in the middle of them all sat the biggest cow Dev had ever seen; larger than an elephant, larger than ten elephants. Dev’s neck bent back as he followed it’s length up to where the animal’s head brushed the cavern ceiling. He only had one thought in his mind as he took in the giant creature. It’s so beautiful. The animal’s enormous eyes, while wet and scared, were stunning, seeming to encompass entire galaxies within their depths. It’s coat was clean and gleaming, shining like sunlight over water, and the muscle underneath rippled with angelic health. He couldn’t help but wonder how the milk of a creature as divine as this would taste, and had no doubt that it really must have once fed all of humanity. Then it let out a thunderous bellow and shat itself, and suddenly the spell was broken.

His eyes instead went back to the horrible laughing demons, as yet unaware of he and Shuni’s presence, and felt fear rise up inside of him. His feet instinctively began backing up as he looked around for the closest place to hide.

Then Shuni began barking. It was a loud bark, a challenging bark, full of righteous joy at the prospect of the imminent battle. Dev wanted to throttle her.

‘Shuni,’ he started, but she was off, charging at the demons as if they were simply seagulls.

Dev stood, conflicted. Unable to pair the desire to fearlessly support his friend and the gut wrenching panic at the thought of confronting these literal demons. Instead, he stayed motionless as Shuni bit down hard on the ankle of the closest panis. The thing let out a scream as terrible as its visage. It turned as it’s features changed to rage, and picked Shuni up by her bottom and pulled. Shuni came free with a chunk of demon flesh in her teeth.

The demon tossed her to a nearby hovering fellow, who, laughing, threw her again to a panis on the other side of the cavern. Dev watched in terror as Shuni passed from one set of demon fingers to the next, barking with a ferocious exuberance the entire time.

Mustering up every ounce of bravery inside of him, Dev pushed back his shoulders and with a shaking voice, cried out. ‘Let her go!’

The demon who currently held her, did. He dropped her with a cackle from over five meters in the air. She hit the ground with a soft whump and Dev raced over to her.

She turned her head to look up as he knelt above her. ‘Hey, best friend,’ she said. ‘Did you see me taking on the panis?’

‘I did, Shuni,’ he said, trying to make his voice even a fifth as cheery as hers. ‘You were very brave.’

‘We both were,’ she said.

Dev looked away and up at the swarm of panis hovering.

‘Shall we keep fighting then?’ Shuni asked, bringing her battered body to her feet.

‘I don’t know,’ Dev said, hopelessness creeping into his voice. ‘I’m not sure you can beat them.’ He looked at her chubby little body. ‘Not in this form.’

His idea came back to him.

‘Shuni, you said you can alter certain aspects of reality, right?’

‘Yep. I sure can’

‘Your alterations though, they need to be grounded in some kind of reality, right?

‘That’s right.’ The smile widened on the corgi’s face. ‘What’s going on in your big head, best friend?’

Dev whipped his satchel around himself and pulled out the Ye Old England doggy outfits.

‘What about this dragon outfit? Could you make it so that putting it on turned you into a dragon?’

Shuni thought, taking in Dev’s suggestion. ‘No,’ she finally said. ‘It’s too much of a stretch, the product wasn’t designed for that.’

Dev’s heart sunk.

‘But you could.’

‘What?’ Dev asked.

‘You write the descriptions for these products. I can’t make it that this outfit will do something it’s not supposed to, but I could if you made it part of it’s description.’

‘You mean, if I change the copy so that it says the costume will turn whoever wears it into what it looks like, then it’ll work?’

‘Yep.’

Dev looked up in amazement. ‘In other words, you’re saying that I posses a certain set of skills that have come in handy right when we need them!’ He began laughing and Shuni leapt up and licked his face.

The panis, sensing their excitment, all turned. One let out a cackle and began moving slowly towards them.

‘Right,’ Dev said, and pulled his laptop to him and began typing. His fingers clicked across the keyboard, words and sentences weaving magic as he created copy. Shuni pulled two of the outfits aside and looked up at Dev as he closed the laptop and pushed it to the ground.

‘Two? Why two?’ he asked.

Moments later and Shuni was dressed smartly in the dragon outfit. Beside her, Dev had squeezed the dog sized samurai costume over his head and arms.

‘I feel ridiculous,’ he said.

‘I think you look great,’ Shuni replied.

The panis chuckled as they gathered above them.

‘Ah, Shuni. Why isn’t it working?’ Dev asked, panic rising.

‘I don’t know? Did you press enter?’

The panis dove at them, mouths open wide.

‘Shit!’ Dev called out as he reached for the laptop. He opened its casing just as the first demon was about to touch them, and clicked.

Shuni’s costume molded into her. Her limbs and neck began to elongate immediately, becoming scaled and green. Her snout pushed forward, her teeth grew into fangs, and her puffball of a tail snaked out behind her. Shuni let out a joyful roar, followed by a belch of flame that roasted the closest of the panis.

Dev’s costume likewise stretched, flowing across his body until it fit him perfectly. He felt himself leap impossibly high to kick one of the laughing demons across the mouth, shattering teeth. His hands found the two swords at his back — which, until a moment ago, had been made of felt — and he sliced through two more of the panis before landing perfectly on the ground.

The fight didn’t last long. The panis may have been able to take on a small dog and a giant cow, but they were no match for a samurai and a dragon. Realising this, most of the demons panicked, popping out of existence to return to whatever realm they had come from.

Dev stood beside Shuni, still in dragon form, and looked up at the giant bovine. ‘What do we do with her?’ he asked from behind the cloth of his mask.

‘Don’t worry, best friend. I’ll take care of it.’ Shuni roared around splutters of fire.

‘Do you think you could take the costume off now? It was hard enough bringing myself to talk to a dog let alone a dragon.’

Shuni raised a clawed hand to her neck and pulled. Her green scaled skin tented outward then came free, reverting to a small, fairly cheaply made, dragon doggy outfit, leaving Shuni hanging in the air. She fell, the outfit fluttering down behind her, and Dev, still capable of samurai reflexes, caught them both easily in his arms. He placed her down and pulled off his own outfit.

‘I suppose you’ll go now,’ he said.

‘Yes. And no. I’ll go, but the part of me that’s your dog will remain. You’ll still have your best friend.’

He knelt down and took her in his arms. ‘I’ll only have half of her, but I suppose that’ll have to be enough.’

Shuni licked his face, her eyes a conflicted pool of happy and sad. ‘Well, if me or any of the other gods ever need a writer, we’ll know exactly who to come to.’

‘A copy writer, you mean.’

‘What’s the difference? Time for me to go, best friend. I’ll miss you.’

‘I’ll miss you too, Samara.’

He placed her down and she trotted over to the sacred cow. With one final look back at Dev she turned and licked the leg of the enormous creature, and it disappeared, taking the deity with it.

Shuni, the non-holy version, turned and looked about the cave, before seeing Dev and excitedly trotted over to him. He picked her up and started the long walk home.

+ + + +

The next day Dev went back to work, which is to say he went back to the office to quit, only to remember it was still destroyed. In the end he sent his manager a strongly worded resignation letter. He also decided to keep the laptop, he would need it for the novel he would write, the one about the god and the dragon and the demons and the dog.

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Thanks for reading

Damian

October 26, 2017

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Today’s track comes from fellow Australian, Kim Churchill. He has an impressive six albums, but I’ve only stumbled across his music recently with his latest, Weight Falls. The album features a bunch of great bluesy rock tracks, but the one that’s currently stuck in my head is Secondhand Car.

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Current chain of writing days: 8

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Writing is an ordinary super power.

A drawing teacher who’s blog I follow wrote that recently, and it resonated with me as a nice distillation of my my own thoughts on the matter.

Writing, like any form of communication, is simply trying to cram the mess of thoughts and ideas and stories that are in our heads into someone else’s. A type of telepathy that requires an interpreter in the form of paper and pen, or pencil, or crayon, or the blood of your enemies…or, I suppose, a laptop would work too. Professor X is basically just a guy who skips the middle ground, and imessages right into your skull.

I think the difference with writing as a form of communication, as opposed to speaking, or film, or music, or art, is that it requires more from the receiver. With writing — while story, content, and word choice all comes from the writer — the world the reader ends up envisioning comes mostly from their own imagination. I would argue at least fifty percent (if not more) of the world comes from the reader. It has to. Unless a writer describes every element within a scenario, every movement through every moment of time, then the reader has to fill in a hell of a lot of blanks. And a good writer will take advantage of this fact.

For example, take this set up to a scene:

She passed through the wire door into the kitchen that had been such an integral part of her childhood. The room not only looked smaller than she remembered, but duller too. Without the bustle of her mother creating meals and singing songs, bringing life into the space, it seemed like a taxidermied animal; whole in all appearances, but whose glass eyes gave away the lie.

What did the kitchen look like to you? Because, all I really told you was that it’s small and has a wire door. But, unless you just pictured a small white space with a wire door, chances are you filled in all the rest. What was the colour of the walls? What was the layout of the benches? What side of the room was the wire door on? Each of us pictured our own kitchen, each one different, and the one in my head different again. You probably had at least a basic idea of how the character looked as well, even though all you knew was that she was an adult woman. Does it matter? Of course not. How the kitchen looks isn’t important, what’s important is the character’s feelings towards the room and how it influences her actions within the story; that’s the one element we all share, and the element I put more time in communicating.

As a form of communication writing is undeniably flawed. No matter how much I wrote, an exact copy of what’s in my head will never enter yours. It will always be muddled in the translation, influenced by the reader’s imagination, experiences, and subconscious; but I think that just adds to the magic. As a reader I love getting lost in other people’s worlds and I think part of that is because, while I’m experiencing something new, there’s also always something familiar there as well; whatever I’m adding to fill in the blanks. We want a window into a different world but a mirror into our own one as well.

It takes two to communicate a written story, and so I think that earlier statement needs an amendment, and that’s that reading is an ordinary super power too.

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I saw this quote somewhere on the internet that gets across the absurd magic of reading perfectly:

‘Reading is just staring at marked slices of wood for hours while hallucinating vividly’

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Also, I did a Q and A with my good friend Sean Carney for Movie Maintenance Presents about my short story The Fox’s Beard. You can check it out here.

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Talk soon

Damian

Copy (Part 1)

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IMAGE CREDIT: Miazola

Dev Madani worked as a copywriter for a large novelty pet supplies company, which meant he spent the majority of his day writing up over the top descriptions of products like ferret scarves or cat wigs.

His main task was to ensure that he used whatever keywords the client requested as many times as possible while still keeping the description intelligible. Keywords were meant to be included in repetition in order to increase the likelihood that someone would find their website when they searched for that term, but clients were idiots, which is why his summary of a civil war era bonnet for rabbits included the word ‘hop-tastic’ fifteen times. Dev thought that whoever the person was that searched for the term ‘hop-tastic’ deserved to pay the exorbitant forty dollars for their crappy product.

It was fair to say Dev wasn’t feeling very fulfilled in his job.

Today, he was working on a write up for a new line of doggy dress ups. They were being toted as the Ye Old England range and allowed buyers to dress man’s best friend up in costumes of knights, maidens, dragons, wizards, princesses and samurai’s – the historical inaccuracy of which made Dev want to scream out loud. Nevertheless, he raised his fingers to the keyboard and thought about the best way to convince some lonely shopper that the reason they weren’t satisfied with their life was because there dog didn’t have the right outfit.

Then the roof fell in.

+ + + +

The rescue services hadn’t been able to say what caused the cave in, which Dev had been a bit annoyed by. They’d done a great job of pulling him out of the rubble, and luckily no one had been hurt, but when the top of a building falls on you, you generally want to know why.  

A lot of companies would grant leave to their employees after having a near death experience on their premises. Dev’s workplace instead handed out all the undamaged laptops and told everyone to work from home. Likewise, a lot of people would take a near death experience as an opportunity to quit a job they so clearly hated, Dev instead grumbled softly under his breath, took a laptop, and headed back to his apartment.

He placed his satchel which contained the laptop and some of the Ye Old England outfits for reference, onto his kitchen counter, and went to the fridge to grab a beer. Shuni, Dev’s chubby corgi trotted up to him with a look of pure happiness on her face.

‘You want a beer, Shuni?’ Dev asked. Shuni’s response was to continue to smile at him in her doggy way. ‘So, that’s a no?’

Dev had named Shuni for Samara, a figure of Hindu mythology, who was also known as Deva-shuni — the translation of which is ‘Divine Bitch’. As far as Dev was concerned, his Shuni was a divine bitch. His religious faith didn’t extend far beyond that.

‘What about juice?’ Dev asked the still smiling dog. ‘Red bull? Not after five, right? White wine? Milk?’

‘Oh, milk would be nice, thank you,’ Shuni responded.

Dev had the milk in his hand before his brain caught up with the fact that his dog, who, until now had been limited to a series of yips and barks, had just spoken English. He froze, and looked at the happy corgi.

‘What?’ Shuni asked. ‘Has the milk gone bad?’

Dev dropped the milk. Shuni trotted over to the container as it leaked its contents onto the hardwood. ‘Smells alright to me,’ she said, before lapping at the white liquid.

Dev told himself to remain calm. Told himself he might be dreaming. Told himself he might be going insane. Told himself to finish his beer, which he did in four quick swallows.

‘Look at us,’ Shuni said, ‘just two best friends sharing a drink.’

The beer was already working its way into Dev’s bloodstream, and so he felt his impending freakout get covered softly by a thin blanket of alcohol.

‘Shuni?’ Dev said, forcing his voice to remain calm.

‘Yes, Dev,’ Shuni responded, her muzzle drenched with milk.

‘You’re talking.’

‘Yes, Dev.’

‘Why are you talking?’

‘Oh, well, I need your help with something,’ she said, and lowered her muzzle back to the pool of dairy.

‘Okay, that’s nice, maybe stop drinking for a minute if that’s okay. I was more wondering how you’re able to talk, and, secondly, if perhaps I’m losing my sanity.’

She smiled at him again, which didn’t help the situation any.

‘No, you’re not. I’m just a god, that’s all.’

Dev took another beer from the fridge and drunk it even faster than the first one. Shuni seeing Dev scull desperately from the bottle took it as a sign that she could continue drinking too, and so went back to the milk.

‘Sorry, could you just elaborate on that last part.’ Dev said, his calming blanket of alcohol just barely hanging on.

‘The god part?’

‘Yes. Yes, the god part.’

‘Oh. Okay. Well, it’s pretty straight forward. You named your dog, me, after a deity, which allowed that deity, also me, to be able to inhabit your pet.’

‘Wait, you said you’re both my dog, and the god Samara?’

‘Yes. We just kind of merged when I, she, took over.’

‘And when was that?’

‘This afternoon, after the mystic cow crashed into your office building.’

‘I’m going to need more beer aren’t I?’

‘Maybe! Can I get some more milk?’ Shuni asked him, tail wagging.

+ + + +

‘So, let me get this right,’ Dev said as he walked through the fading sunlight back to his workplace, Shuni trotting beside him, a look of pure joy on her face. ‘A group of demons known as the panis.’

‘Yes,’ Shuni encouraged.

‘Stole the sacred cow, who is invisible to us mortals, and who they dropped on my office block, from the Angirasas.’

‘That’s right.’

‘Who are the the ancestors of man.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘The Angirasas, back in the day, used the sacred cow’s milk to nourish humanity, allowing us to become the people we are today.’

‘Mm-hmm.’

‘Except, if the panis do something to the sacred cow then the ramifications of that will go back through time and all of humanity will be lost forever.’

‘Correct.’

‘And so you, Samara, a mythological Hindu being in the body of a corgi, have been tasked with stopping them, retrieving the cow, and saving the world; and you want me, a guy who writes copy for a living, to help you.’

‘That’s it. Ten out of ten. Two best friends on the hunt.’

‘This is just the most ridiculous shit,’ he said.

‘It’s an adventure!’ Shuni cried.

Dev rubbed at his face, half hoping that when he stopped some form of reality would be restored. When it didn’t he sighed and decided to just go with it.

‘Okay, so, why do you need me? Are you going to imbue me with, like, magical powers or something? Or do I possess some certain set of skills that’ll come in handy right when we need it?’ He asked

‘You can let me into the office.’ She said, still smiling.

‘Oh.’

‘And you’re my best friend.’

Dev sighed again. ‘You’re my best friend too, Shuni.’ He said, knowing just how true that statement was.

+ + + +

Dev pulled his swipe card from his satchel and opened the door into the office block. His company didn’t employ a night guard, and even if they did all they would have to guard at the moment was a giant pile of rubble, but, perhaps due to the quiet and the dark, Dev felt like he should be creeping.

‘What a mess,’ Shuni said, breaking the silence. She plodded past Dev and started trotting across the rubble, her flat white butt bobbing up and down as she went. Dev had always thought Shuni’s corgi butt was cute and comical, but knowing it now belonged to a god confused those feelings. Unsure exactly what he was supposed to be doing to help in this situation, Dev began pacing around the destruction.

He stopped and picked up a poster for one of their past products, the bitchin’ birdy spa bath. It had been one of the first products he’d written copy for. He hadn’t been confident in his skills at the time and so had plagiarized the write up of a similar product that was already on the market. He had been found out, however, when one of the rival companies noticed the same word for word description of their paradise parrot hot tub on his summary of the bitchin’ birdy spa bath. He’d been lucky not to be fired, his saving grace only coming from the fact that both products were quickly recalled; birds bathing in hot water turned out to be a very bad idea.

Since then he’d gotten quite good at writing copy, but, while there was some satisfaction from a job well done, he mostly found his work meaningless. It was hard to feel like you were making a difference in the world when your greatest accomplishment was the perfect description of a three piece — monocle, bow tie, and top hat — for cats.

‘Dev, Dev, bestie, over here. I’ve found the trail.’ Shuni called.

Dev made his way across the rubble to see Shuni sniffing around a section of collapsed roof.

‘What is it?’ He asked.

‘Sacred cow. Oh, yes, definitely sacred cow.’

Dev lowered himself to the ground, then looked to Shuni for confirmation. She gave him her usual doggy grin and he took in a big whiff.

‘No,’ he said. ‘Can’t smell anything.’

‘Really?’ Shuni asked, tilting her head to the side. ‘Because right now you’re face deep in its droppings. You mortals are so interesting.’

Later, once Dev had thoroughly wiped his face clean of the invisible mess, and once they had left the building, he turned to Shuni.

‘Okay, so you can see invisible cows, see their invisible droppings, and follow their invisible trail, not to mention the fact that you’re part god. I still don’t see why you needed me to let you into the building?’

‘Because I’m also part dog, that comes with limitations. Look at my little legs,’ Shuni said, stopping to wiggle one of her soft and stumpy limbs. ‘You don’t expect someone with legs like these to be able to open doors, do you?’

‘If that someone’s part god, kind of, yeah.’

‘Oh best friend, you’re so silly. I still have to work within the reality of this world. I can alter certain aspects, but why would I need to, I’ve got you.’

‘To open doors?’

‘Exactly! Come on the trails leads this way.’

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The conclusion to this story can be found here.

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Thanks for reading,

Damian

October 10, 2017

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I’ve loaded up on new music recently and one I’ve really been enjoying is Newton Faulkner’s latest album, Hit The Ground Running. His albums can be a bit hit and miss, but this one is a real winner. The first couple of tracks are upbeat and fun, and then it dips into some almost funk and blues songs that really work for me. This is one of the upbeat ones, entitled: Smoked Ice Cream.

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Current chain of writing days: 2

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For the past two weeks the Lady Holly have been making our way across Malaysian Borneo. It is a hot and humid place thanks to it’s proximity to the equator, full of jungle, quick and heavy tropical rain, noodles, and unfortunately quite a lot of palm plantations.

Borneo, for any who don’t know, is a large island surrounded on four sides by Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the lower half of Vietnam — and is made up of three countries; Malaysia Borneo, Indonesian Borneo, and the very small nation of Brunei.

My first introduction to Borneo came when during a flight to Europe last year we stopped over in Brunei and I had no idea where we were. Some quick research dispelled my ignorance, I learnt some basic facts about Borneo (those listed above), and then forgot all about it as we were already on one adventure and weren’t needing to plan our next one just yet.

That was until months later, when attending a friends book launch, the Lady Holly picked up a lonely planet on Borneo. She flicked through, showing me one amazing photo after another, and by the time she had made it to the back cover we were in agreeance that, yeah, we were going to go there.

Holly did a bunch of research and put together an itinerary of one amazing activity after another. I did nothing, maybe I cooked, either way, she rocks and planned us a killer trip. We booked it all in and then had to trudge through a half year wait until we could finally get on that plane and dive into the photos that had won us over all those months ago.

Now, I could go through out whole trip and tell you each incredible thing we did one after another, but I have the feeling that that would be more fun for me than for you, so, in short: We visited humid rainforests dripping with wildlife, peeled leeches from our ankles while trying not to freak out, floated down kinabatangan river spotting monkeys and birds, drank beer while watching the jungle soak itself with rain, scuba dived and snorkeled through island reefs brimming with fish and sea turtles, and ate, and bused, and sweated, and watched movies, and waited in airports, and read books, and discovered something new every day. It was magic.

Because that’s what travelling does, it exposes you to the new, and when that happens you can’t help but learn things.

So, I thought I’d finish by jotting down the… 

Things I Learned in Borneo:

  1. I’m fairly terrible at keeping up my writing while on holiday. I started out strong, but then got quite sick, then had activity filled days, and in the end I decided to just lean into it. I don’t think it’s the worse thing. While I like having a big number for my consecutive days of writing, some time off can be beneficial, and has left me extra keen to jump back in.
  2. Something will always go wrong. This is my mantra for any time I travel. If you’re expecting to travel and have everything go perfectly then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. There’s too many factors involved, too many ways something can and will go wrong. By acknowledging this fact it means that when it does you can simply say, ‘I knew this would happen,’ and get on with it, rather than get disappointed. Works for life in general too, but that’s another blog. For this trip, I got sick. I actually had gastro the day before we left, then contracted a flu two days in. It was a bad one, I can’t remember the last time I felt so rotten. I could barely get out of bed, was sweating and delusional, and I couldn’t even hold onto a thought during the worst of it. When it was clear I wasn’t getting better, I took some antibiotics and quickly started improving. It’s the first time to my knowledge that I’ve taken antibiotics and wow, they’re awesome. I got out of bed and back on track. Not to say it wasn’t upsetting but in the long run it was a small setback to a great trip.
  3. Fortune may favour the bold but it also favours the prepared. E.g. the antibiotics I took we had on hand because we’d seen a travel doctor before going. While things will go wrong, being prepared minimises the effect. 
  4. Noodles are literally good for any meal. Yes, even breakfast.
  5. Plan a holiday around seeing wildlife and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time. That’s a more personal one. Nature and wildlife may not be for everyone, but for me it meant I always had something beautiful and interesting to look at and photograph, as well as providing us with that recharge that only nature can provide and that I miss by living in a city. It’s also cost effective.
  6. No matter how hard I try I am destined to always break a pair of sunglasses while on holiday. Always. Sometimes multiple times.
  7. I should read more. While I didn’t write as much as I thought I would I did read a bunch. How much? Five and a half novels in two weeks, my friends. It was bliss. By allowing myself permission to disconnect from my phone, as well as having plenty of down time, it meant I could commit to reading as much as I usually want to, and was so much more beneficial than scrolling through apps on my phone like I usually would. One of the books was Stephen King’s On Writing, in which he says aspiring writers need to do two things; write a lot and read a lot. He’s not wrong, and I’m hoping to bring back this renewed passion into my usual routine.
  8. My beard is quite good at protecting my face from sunburn; my thinning hairline, not so much. You can read that one any way you like, but I choose to see it as; things always even out.
  9. You should go visit Borneo. Honestly, there was so much to see and do, the people were friendly and relaxed, never pushy, and getting around wasn’t a problem. It’s a wonderful part of the world and one we’re hoping to get back to one day.
  10. Holly’s the best. You should get yourself a Holly.

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It’s good to be back.

Talk soon

Damian